After a relatively peaceful year—if such a thing exists in the East China Sea—Beijing and Tokyo are once again warning each other to back off claims over the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands.
Rand Corporation's recent war game pitted China vs. Japan and eventually the United States. In the simulation, Tokyo’s treaty ally pledged to defend the island nation, including the disputed islands, from attack.
The scenario for the wargame was frighteningly realistic to say the least:
Over the last several months China has instituted daily non-naval maritime patrols around the hotly disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu islands. Beijing is even sending fully-fledged naval assets within the islands' 12 mile exclusion zone while its aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, exercised only 50 miles away from the islands back in February — truly the end of Beijing's small-stick diplomatic strategy.
“But on 1 March the plot thickens. Two Chinese SU-27 fighters come within 25 feet of a Japanese P-3 Orion surveillance plane just 10 miles west of the Senkakus (sound familiar?). The Japanese pilot gets nervous. A slight tweak at the controls and the Japanese plane collides with one of the Chinese fighters. Both aircraft crash into the ocean, with no survivors.
Beijing threatens force if its citizens are harmed. As Japanese naval forces come within 20 miles of the islands a Chinese J-10 fighter jet buzzes the task force. On its second pass it comes dangerously close to a Japanese destroyer. In a perceived act of self-defense, the destroyer shoots down the aircraft.A conflict in Asia—which would make problems like ISIS seem like mere child's play—is only an incident away. And make no mistake about it, such a conflict, considering that the United States and China are armed with nuclear weapons, would be a frightening affair.
Hours later, as Japanese forces begin operations to remove the Chinese nationals from the Senkakus, Beijing fires a warning shot, a DF-21D or “carrier-killer” missile which hits the ocean just 10 miles away from the Japanese task force. Undeterred, Japanese forces press ahead. Domestic pressure on Chinese leaders becomes intense. They feel they have no choice but to escalate, launching a massive saturation strike with ballistic and cruise missiles against the Japanese task force. Three vessels are hit with heavy loss of life. Global media coverage of the burning hulks and bodies in the water reaches a fever pitch.
Prime Minister Abe urgently phones the President formally requesting America's help under the terms of the US-Japan alliance — a 3am call no president would ever wish to receive. War in Asia seems imminent.